Chiz
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His giggle and his speech consume a lot of television airtime. His posters bearing his standard smile and his laidback posture spread everywhere. His name sounds so edible you can even taste it. And if he makes it in the Senate, you can rightfully call him “Ang Palaman ng Senado.”

That man is Rep. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero.

“I would want to run for a higher position and find out, and I would lucky enough to find out at the age 37, if this is still what I'll be doing,” Escudero says when asked why he was running for senator.

Not much has changed in his reason compared to an interview in 2005 , when he first expressed his desire to run for Senate. “In 2007, I will run for Senate just to know. I’m not saying I won’t cry or get drunk if I lose, but the upside of it is at least I will know, and I still have time to do something productive,” Escudero said.

Yet in such a seemingly short time, Escudero has accomplished so much as a public official. In his first term as the representative of the 1st District of Sorsogon, the young congressman rose at the ranks from being Assistant Majority Floor Leader to 2nd Deputy Majority Floor Leader to Assistant Deputy Minority Floor Leader of the 11th Congress .

Escudero also became part of “the other brat pack ” known as the Bright Boys. This group of first-termers and relatives-of in the House of Representatives, alongside another group known as the Spice Boys, became popular at the height of controversy over amending the Constitution back in 1999. The Spice Boys were on the side of the opposition, while the Bright Boys defended the agenda of then President Joseph Estrada.

Fast forward to 2004 and Escudero is making the rounds as the campaign spokesperson of the late presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., relentlessly defending the defeated contender as the Congress canvassed the votes for an electoral protest they filed. By this time too he was well on his way to becoming the minority leader of the House.

It is in this sense that age ceased to matter. It actually was his eloquence, demeanor, and unabashed directness that saved him.

“I like his platform, first and foremost,” says Beverly Lopez, a 3rd year journalism student from University of the Philippines Diliman and a campaign volunteer for Escudero’s Team Chiz. “Meron siyang utak talaga eh, and so far yung nakikita ko concrete yung mga ideas niya. Hindi yung tipong palipag-lipad na ‘tatanggalin ko lahat ng hirap niyo sa buhay.’ Walang ganoon,” she adds.

That, plus the how the congressman earlier impressed Lopez while interviewing him for a Newswriting class, made her root for Escudero. “Amazed na amazed ako doon sa galing niyang mag-multitask. Hindi nawawala yung train of thought niya, and actually what he says has a point,” she recalls. His spontaneity as he speaks also caught her attention to this politician whom she first thought was troublesome.

This troublesome impression that Escudero exudes is not uncommon, but trust him to respond by just keeping his cool. A famous story in the gallery of Congress tells of a woman who approached him once and said, “Sayang, you’re young, bright and eloquent but you’re always on the wrong side.”

“Slight correction Ma’am,” Escudero replied. “I disagree that I am on the wrong side. I’m just not on your side.”

Indeed, Escudero has progressed from just another son-of, the fourth-generation Escudero to do so, to one of the leading figures in the House. The Escuderos date as far as the pre-war years when his great-grandfather was a governor. His father Salvador “Sonny” Escudero III was a former congressman and Department of Agriculture Secretary while his uncle is also in public office.

Being part of the opposition, Escudero is known to be critical of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Along with his colleagues, he vehemently contested the infamous Presidential Decree 1017 which had put the country under a state of emergency, Executive 464 which barred executive officials from legislative inquiry without prior consent from the President, and Calibrated Pre-Emptive Response which upped the tolerance for protest rallies. He was also among those who cried foul over the controversial and unresolved case of cheating in the elections (thanks to the infamous Garci tapes) and who led the two attempts to impeach Arroyo but to no avail.

People may be surprised to know that Arroyo is actually Escudero’s godmother when he married singer and stage actress Christine Alfonso. In one occasion Escudero escorted Arroyo as they were sponsors of a wedding of a mutual friend. The two were also civil to each other when Escudero received his Ten Outstanding Young Men award in the presidential palace Malacañang in 2005.

Despite this relation to the President, Escudero has a mouthful on one of the hottest issues that hounds this administration: the extrajudicial killings. In a previous interview he aired what he deemed as the common denominators of these killings: that the suspects were usually two bonnet-wearing individuals riding a motorcycle; that the weapon usually used is a .45 caliber; that the scene of the crime is not more than a kilometer away from a army camp or a police station; and that despite the overwhelming number of casualties, the authorities have yet to solve a case, even much more produce a suspect.

“Si General Palparan halimbawa, maraming alingawngaw na s'ya ang may kinalaman sa walang humpay na pagpatay ng mga miyembro ng makakaliwa or progeisibong grupo. Inimbestigahan ba [siya]? Sinuspinde ba man lang [siya]? Bakit kapag mayor, governor, o kakampi na opposition ang medyo nadapa or natisod, suspendido agad. Dahil pag kapag kakampi n'ya, kaalyado n'ya, tumutulong sa kanya, kahit preventive suspension man lang ay wala,” he further gripes.

In his official web blog, most of Escudero’s entries called for the administration to not bend the rules but instead work on and speed up the resolution of the killings. “I dismiss claims by the military that the extrajudicial executions were the handiwork of leftist groups. The trouble with this line is that it assumes the victims were agents of the military and the rebels executed them to exact retribution. The military does not even make an attempt to supply evidence to support the allegations,” he writes.

However, Escudero is of a few words in the issue of the Visiting Forces Agreement, although he was once made to choose, as to the degree of importance, between natural sovereignty and international commitment and between human rights and security. “Tao pa rin sa kadulu-duluhan. …Apat ang elemento ng isang estado: pamahalaan, kasarinlan ng soberenya, teritoryo o lupain, at pang-apat, tao. Timbangin anumang araw ng Lingo, anumang oras ng araw, anumang araw ng buwan, palagi kong, palagi mas matimbang at mabigat sa akin ang tao. Timbangin ang kasarinlan at tao, tao pa rin ako. Timbangin gobyerno, teritorya at tao, sa tao pa rin ako. Anumang issue na pagpipilian ng dalawang 'yan, palaging tao ang pipiliin ko. So kung karapatang pangtao, dignidad ng kababayan natin ang pag-uusapan, palaging mas matimbang sa 'kin 'yan kaysa anumang issue na pwedeng itapat [diyan],” he simply replied.

Escudero is just as firm one of in his main advocacies: education. He suggests not to build more schools, but offers this solution instead: to increase the budget of state universities and colleges (SUCs), which he thinks is “a reverse of what the present administration is doing.” The trend of making these SUCs self-sustaining and hindering them to compete with private schools is wrong, he says. “I think government, for as long as we can afford it, must be able to set the bar insofar as salaries are concerned so that the private sector would follow. And, number two, government must also be able to set the bar insofar as the lowered cost of education is concerned. So that the private sector would also follow suit. Otherwise, they will simply lose out in the business that they had entered into, insofar as educating our youth is concerned,” he said.

Such stance can be seen as typical for this product of state-sponsored education, as Escudero studied all the way in the UP: he studied in the UP Integrated School from grade school to high school, finished his bachelor’s degree in Political Science in UP Diliman and became part of Class of ’93 in the UP College of Law. He was only 24 then.

Incidentally, his mother Evelina Guevarra used to teach in the UP College of Home Economics, while his father is a former dean of the UP College of Veterinary Medicine.

Escudero claims that he did not get good grades in school. Though he started schooling at an early age of 5, he has memories of living in a compound with some 13 cousins who christened him “Tot” and became his patintero playmates. The middle of three children, he was born and raised in Manila but had frequent trips back home in Sorsogon. His older brother Philip is a photographer, and younger sister Bernadette is in the food business. “My problem was, until my third year in high school I was about 4 foot 6,” Escudero recalls in an interview. “My growth spurt kicked in only in my senior year. I was always the kid who had to squat in front for class picture.”

It is also in UP that Escudero got his first victorious shot at the art of debating in 1991. A member of the Alpha Phi Beta fraternity, he was “politely ordered” by his APB elders in UP to represent the group in a campus-wide gabfest.

After obtaining his masters degree in 1996 in International and Comparative Law in Georgetown University, his arrival from the United States marked his entry to the political arena. “I’ve always wanted to go into politics as councilor in our municipality but in 1992 I was still taking up law (in University of the Philippines Diliman),” Escudero relates. His father was just appointed as DA Secretary, giving the younger Escudero the clear field to run for the vacant congressional post. By the time he won the post in 1998 Escudero had already taught for five years in UP, Ateneo de Manila University and at the Aemillano Institute in his home province in Sorsogon.

Although Escudero took on the older Escudero’s post, he claims his father is “less influential with me than people would like to believe.” He said in an interview that his father never encouraged him to join politics, and that during his stint in Congress he and his siblings were prohibited from visiting their father. “He didn’t want us to be perceived as trying to influence him. Since I was elected in 1998, he has never been to my office. It’s sad, but I appreciate it,” he remarks. However, it was his experience in helping in his father’s campaigning dating back to the 1980’s that helped in entertaining the idea of entering politics.

Most of the bills Escudero authored in his terms centered on education, housing (for teachers, police, soldiers and the poor), livelihood programs, health programs for the poor and elderly, human rights, environment and compensations for government employees, to name a few.

Escudero cites three problems as to why Filipinos are not getting the basic needs to live decent lives: power cost, budgetary prioritization and allocation, and corruption. He says that based on surveys that have been conducted, it is the high power cost that deters investments which lessens the available jobs that will give people enough money for their needs. Meanwhile, instead of the government budget be given to education, the bulk of the money goes to the internal revenue allotment and debt servicing. And because of corruption, the social services due to the people are not provided adequately.

To solve these, he believes that the solution lies not in making new laws but in the proper implementation of existing laws through the power of Congress of oversight and of conducting congressional inquiries regarding the abuses of the executive.

In the scheme of economics, Escudero suggests that “we should be able to be forward-looking enough and not simply react to the current situation. We are in a position, given our placement in various countries in the world, to be able to predict or somewhat plan ahead insofar as the career path of our citizenry is concerned.” He considered the phenomenon of the call center industry as temporary and pushed the promotion of local entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, he reckons that the phenomenon of the Overseas Filipino Workers made the Philippines “a consumer driven country and an economy that's consumer-driven.” He thinks that the government should itself engage in contracts that will secure the wellbeing and ensure the protection of our workers.

Though an advocate of environmental concerns, Escudero is for the usage of natural resources under a few conditions: that the consumption of these resources will not go beyond what is needed to ensure that there are enough natural resources left for the future generations, and that we should ourselves capitalize in these resources instead of resorting to selling these to foreigners.

Though an advocate of environmental concerns, Escudero is for the usage of natural resources under a few conditions: that the consumption of these resources will not go beyond what is needed to ensure that there are enough natural resources left for the future generations; that we should ourselves capitalize in these resources instead of resorting to selling these to foreigners; and, he states in a debate “hindi dapat ito makaapekto sa kalikasan partikular sa mas malaking pwedeng pagkakitaan ng ating mga kababayan sa malinis at legal pa mula sa turismo.”

Ideas too grand to be true? Escudero further simplifies his priorities in four items if he gets elected: 1) that Gawad Kalinga program of building houses for the poor will be institutionalized; 2) that free quality education up to the high school and tertiary levels will be provided to those who cannot afford it; 3) that human rights will be ensured and those who violate these rights will be penalized; and 4) that the powers of Congress will be strengthened to prevent abuses in the government especially in the executive department.

Ideas in bullets. It is a style that is of Rep. Chiz Escudero is known for when it comes to interviews and speaking engagements. But more than that, these bullets do mean business from this boyish-looking representative of Sorsogon. And if by fate he survives this electoral battle, you just might witness him spreading his bullets in the Senate while wearing that famous smile on his face.—Rachel Hermosura

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